THE HOMESTEADING PROPOSITION
(about 800 words)
Fredrick Gus Miller
Written in 1912, McGill University
118 Durocher St. Montreal.
Various opinions are usually aired each time a young man leaves his home to go west and take up land. One class considers it almost criminal foolishness to abandon sure opportunities or advancement and break the home ties for certain hardship, possible danger and what they are pleased to consider a gambler's chance of ultimate gain.
Another group sees a halo around the head of every owner of one hundred and sixty acres and imagines him to be making easy money. As a matter of fact the hardship is certain and the easy money seldom there, but if your homesteader has moral and physical stamina, adequate returns are sure. Of course, one has to consider in his returns some things not immediately negotiable, for example self-reliance and a cheery optimism derived from difficulties met and overcome. Rugged health is not the least of the true homesteader's rewards. As a rule he can digest anything smaller than six inch nails and is what he himself would style "a husky outfit to handle". On the whole, regarded either as a training school or as a financial venture, there are many worse openings.
The Canadian government gives a man a title to absolute ownership of a quarter section in Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta. For this he pays ten dollars entrance tee and agrees to make that quarter his home for six months in each year for three years; to cultivate at least thirty acres of the soil and to erect suitable build1ings and fences.
Formerly, residence simply implied sleeping on the place, and thousands of homesteads were acquired by men who worked in the towns during the day and went out to their claims at night in the summer months. That is all changed under the present laws, and the homesteader must really live on his place tor the allotted time; become in fact an actual settler. The only concession made is to men who leave their places in daytime to work at agricultural labor. The requirements for buildings are very reasonable,- a habitable house with moderately efficient stables and fences.
Although frequently denied, it is nevertheless a fact that a young man without funds can homestead successfully. That is, at the end or his time he can have his hundred and sixty acres clear or debt and earning an income. In addition he may possess a few head or stock. It he has used Judgment in selecting his quarter it will be worth from two to four thousand dollars, and with good fortune he may have accumulated cattle, or horses, or sheep, or hogs worth another five hundred. This is not by any means the invariable result, but it can be accomplished by any man with ordinary horse sense who will practice rigid economy and will work hard ten hours a day in all weathers.
He must be, content to do his own cooking. His staples are beans, bannock, syrup and tea, with what fresh meat he can get with his own gun or rod. Fortunately, wild ducks and prairie chickens are plentiful, in the lakes and rivers there are fish.
He must do his own building, usually with logs or sods. His first sod shack may not be all unqualified success, but it is surprising what neat, comfortable dwellings and outbuildings can be put up with these materials. He does his fencing with barbed wire or poplar poles. His well costs him a dollar and a quarter for a round pointed shovel, and several day's strenuous toil. If he cannot afford lumber for cribbing, the ever useful fire killed poplar, trimmed with his axe, must answer.
The dangers are all those incident to all pioneer life, a kick from horse or ox, a falling tree, a misstroke of the axe, or a caved-in well. Frost bite, too, is a terrible scourge of the winter trails.
Some men work out at good wages all summer and hibernate on their claims during the winter months. They use the money earned to buy their winter's supplies and to hire neighbors to do their improvements for them. Others buy oxen or horses on time' and do their own ploughing, paying for them by breaking sod for new settlers and by working on the roads for the government or local improvement district. If the homesteader can acquire a saddle-mare he has what will prove a wonderful convenience in shortening many lonely trails. She will also, if used in reason, pay a hundred percent on her cost by raising colts for photos Each man has his own best way of doing things and must figure out his own system of living.
There are still thousands of homesteads available in Northwestern Canada. Along the foothills of the Rockies, north of the main line of the C. P. R. the land has scarcely been touched. The Peace River country has yet plenty of room. In the last year an immense belt of good land has been surveyed north of the Saskatchewan, and is open for entry. Every year sees the number diminish however, and it will not be long before homesteading will have gone the trail of the buffalo.
The Homesteading Proposition, (about 800 words - 6 photos.) Gus Miller, 118 Durocher St., Montreal